Born To Be Mild

Go to church on Sunday, drive fifty on the highway.  Lookin’ for my dentures, no they didn’t walk away.  Hey Mommy gonna make it happen!  Take my wife in a love embrace!  Chug some suds just once and play kissy face!

Like a true suburban child, I was born, born to me mild!  I can fly so low, stick with status quo!

Born to be mi-i-uld.  Born to be mi-i-uld…

I have an unfortunate habit.  I take the lyrics of a song and rewrite them.  Springsteen’s “hidin’ on the back streets” becomes “ridin’ on the bed springs”.  Simon and Garfunkel’s “I’d rather be a hammer than a nail” becomes “I’d rather be a hammer than Dan Quayle”.  When my daughter Annie was a toddler she learned all about the dawning of the “age of asparagus.”

Sometimes Annie would pipe out a line from one of my versions when we had guests over for dinner, and they would look at me with amusement while assuming that the little scamp had gotten the words wrong.  I would sing to them the full lyrics from my alternate version with a smile on my face, but they often scowled back at me.  They thought that my intention was to mislead a child, when in fact I was teaching my daughter a healthy skepticism about the importance of popular song.

I grew up in the sixties and seventies and actually met folks who based their personal philosophy on rock lyrics.  A girlfriend once told me that punk music and the latest Who album had given her a creed to follow for the rest of her life.  I didn’t want that fate for my daughter.  And someone had to punch a hole in all that sanctimony.

Irreverence runs in my family.  My brother sometimes joined me to sing a punk version of “Close to You” by the Carpenters.  We didn’t change the lyrics, but would howl and scream in agony as we sang “awwwwwwwwarrggh, close to you.”  Tony also specialized in swallowing air so he could belch at climactic moments during a dramatic movie.  “Gone With the Wind” was aired for the first time in decades in the late seventies.  My family crowded around the TV set and watched the Civil War classic starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable.  At the very end of the movie Scarlett O’Hara asked, “Where shall I go?  What shall I do?”   And we heard Rhett Butler reply, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a (BELCH).”  I laughed at the brilliance of Tony’s timing, but my mother tried to smack him.

Folks occasionally get a little outraged when they hear an altered version of a favorite tune.  My wife, especially when we first got married and she hadn’t yet become accustomed to my eccentricities, would react badly when I sang a franker and more direct version of “You Are Sixteen” from the musical “The Sound of Music”.  “I’m a Nazi, you’re my tw**zi”  would send her over the edge for some inexplicable and vaguely feminist reason.  I gradually wore her down over the next few decades, and now she barely blinks an eye when she hears “Born to be Mild”, “Let the Onions In”, and “A Horse with No Brains”.  (I’ve been through a river on a horse with no brains, it felt good to get out of the Seine. In the Louvre pictures are hanging in frames, but the guards won’t let you come back again.”)

My grown up daughter, however, still bears a bit of a grudge.  I neglected to inform Annie as she got older that I had taught her mangled versions of some popular songs.  When she hears the original version on an oldies station she sometimes turns to me with a wild look in her eyes and points a long finger of accusation.  A few years ago former vice president Dan Quayle was trotted out before the cameras on a nightly news segment and was asked his opinion about recent events.  Annie exclaimed, “So that’s who Dan Quayle is!”  I believe that I taught her a bit about American politics at an early age, but she apparently thinks that my motives were less noble.  But I may be wearing her down.  Last night we listened to Linda Ronstadt while driving to a concert, and I told Annie that “love is a nose and you better not pick it.”  She merely sighed in response.




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